Integrated Approach to Operational Visibility: The Fundamentals

The mining industry has experienced a notable downturn in productivity over the past two decades. Although there’s been some revival in the productivity indices in recent years, overall productivity is still down by 25% compared to mid-2000s, according to McKinsey. This decline in productivity can be attributed to reduced operational efficiency, suboptimal asset performance, escalating fuel costs, and inconsistent safety and environmental performances.

Digital transformation stands as a potential solution to these core challenges, promising to deliver fundamental enhancements to both operational and behavioral metrics. By tackling these issues, digital transformation could generate annual value exceeding $100 billion through decreased unscheduled maintenance, optimal consumption of fuel, parts, and labor, reduction in workers’ injury compensations, and the generation of carbon offsets, among other benefits.

Such advancements are made possible by digital solutions that give businesses a comprehensive view of their operations. These solutions can analyze vast amounts of data to provide an overall picture while allowing managers to drill down into any piece of a mine’s equipment thanks to IoT, ensuring swift response to any issues.

However, two significant barriers often prevent these benefits from being fully realized:

The struggle for mining companies to consolidate data. Managers are bombarded with heterogenous data in proprietary formats from various vendors, typically OEMs, as well as non-machine-readable data. Furthermore, these systems are usually on-premise, making them challenging to leverage for advanced analytics.

The issue of poor connectivity, which obstructs the flow of big data and real-time analytics. Many mines are located far from broadband infrastructure, making it physically impossible or economically impractical to transfer big data to a cloud. Continual connectivity of mining vehicles is even more challenging, especially when they frequently leave the mine site.

The key to successful digitization of the mining industry is adopting a comprehensive approach, relying on three fundamental elements:

Technology that can consolidate feed from diverse equipment data systems and ideally, AI-processed (NLP) unstructured or poorly structured documents.

Proficiency in various data transfer technologies (Wi-Fi, BT, SAT, cellular, private LTE, etc.). Companies can choose to constantly exchange vital data with a hauler via low-bandwidth satellite, while also collecting additional non-essential data to be stored and synchronized at a mine camp with a Wi-Fi or private LTE network linked to the internet via broadband satellite or optical fiber.

Edge computing can help companies significantly reduce traffic costs by pre-processing data before uploading it to the cloud. This is particularly useful in situations with only low bandwidth available, as it becomes not just a financial consideration but also a technological necessity.

This three-pronged approach can help overcome the obstacles the mining sector has faced in its journey towards digitization. The simultaneous application of these three elements could pave the way to a more efficient and sustainable industry.